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Datres, Johnson & Smith

Come on now — enough grumbling about the weather. Yes, it’s July, and its beginning has been hot, but just think back several months ago when we were ready to skin Punxsutawney Phil and were cursing the Ides of March and longing for spring’s arrival. You couldn’t tell it by the preponderance of NBA news

Come on now — enough grumbling about the weather. Yes, it’s July, and its beginning has been hot, but just think back several months ago when we were ready to skin Punxsutawney Phil and were cursing the Ides of March and longing for spring’s arrival.

You couldn’t tell it by the preponderance of NBA news saturating the national sports media, but Independence Day has nothing to do with LeBron James ‘being freed’ from the shores of Lake Erie to accept a $154-million handout from the Los Angeles Lakers in perhaps the worst kept secret in the history of the league’s free-agency sweepstakes. Superstars in LA-LA land are nothing new, but regardless of how fans may feel about it — don’t you wish some employer dangled that much cash in front of you!

By the time this reaches your doorstep, there may have been some news regarding Loyalsock’s Kyle Datres’ professional baseball future. Taken in the 12th round of this year’s MLB player draft by the Colorado Rockies, Datres spent his immediate post-draft days with his North Carolina teammates participating in the College Baseball World Series in Omaha.

Coming off an outstanding junior year with the Tar Heels, Datres was UNC’s batting average and infield leader hitting .343 with a slugging percentage of .504. He had six home runs and 15 doubles. While he played mostly at the hot corner, the Rockies drafted him more ambitiously as an infielder. Whatever position he may end up playing, he posted a consistent .943 fielding average that could make him a solid player at any infield position.

Having long-dreamed-of a professional baseball career, he started his pro career strong last week. His first at-bat with the Boise Hawks had him hitting a triple to the centerfield wall and going yard on his third.

Last week’s Webb Weekly included extensive coverage of former St. John Neumann and Missouri State University standout Alize Johnson’s second-round selection in the 2018 NBA draft by the Indiana Pacers. Following his Williamsport draft night celebration with family and well-wishers, Johnson has joined the Pacers Summer League team playing in Las Vegas through July 17. His Summer League coach Steve Gansey assessed what Johnson can expect.

“You can do a lot of things with him. His most important thing he has to work towards is getting on the floor and getting some minutes. We are trying different things with him throughout the summer practices and training camp. It’s going to be fun for him. He’s got a high motor, and I love it. He has the ability to guard multiple players, and he’s got to learn different NBA concepts and absorb as much as he can.”

In a recent interview with the Indianapolis Star, Johnson expressed eagerness with his new challenge.

“I have to do things different being the underdog. I know I’ve got to show something I can do consistently. Rebounding is about effort. I’m all about hard work and getting in the gym. Not being the most athletic person, I have to go all out with effort. I’ve got siblings back home and family rooting for me. So when I’m going up there grabbing some rebounds, that’s kind of what I’m doing it for,” Alize explained.

Speaking of underdogs, it’s too bad the message delivered by just-graduated Penn State linebacker Brandon Smith at the recent South Williamsport Lions Club All-Star Football Banquet couldn’t have been heard by young athletes all across the region. In addressing the assembled All-Star players, the soft-spoken Lewisburg native relayed his walk-on experience at Penn State and the importance of believing in yourself and chasing your dreams.

Arriving at Penn State in the midst of the Sandusky scandal aftermath and the NCAA sanctions, he was among two-dozen walk-ons trying to gain the coaches’ attention and gain playing time. Like others, he spent time grumbling about the coaches, and what he perceived to be their lack of attention to his abilities. Understanding that this approach was not succeeding, he took it upon himself to work as hard as he could and be the best teammate possible.

Ultimately, injuries to other linebackers gave him an opportunity, and he rose to the occasion. Smith appeared in all 13 PSU games as a senior including four starts. His career was capped by recovering a fumble on Washington’s final Fiesta Bowl play to secure the Nittany Lions victory. He was named Penn State’s recipient of the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award and was named semi-finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, awarded by the National Football Foundation to recognize an individual as the absolute best football scholar-athlete.

He also was pursuing his own professional dream having just returned from a pre-season Buffalo Bills training camp. Whether he ever plays in the NFL is a long shot, but like Datres and Johnson, he has embraced the opportunities coming his way.

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